A belief that children should have limits on time to save the world or crush pigs using a bird as a weapon

This weekend I travelled with our Trampoline and Tumbling team because my 2 boys compete. It was a great experience and I truly enjoyed spending time with the kids as well as the other team parents. I did notice that we all have the same problem. Screen time.

Every moment when the kids were not competing they were engrossed in their tablets playing games. My sons both found that being called up to be awarded for their efforts were merely an interruption to their games and that left me dumbfounded. After the meet, on the ride home I asked my usual questions: what did you learn that you can work on improving for next time? And was it fun? In response I got “Ian knows a way to switch from survival mode to creative mode without losing your world.” Of course I was thankful that Ian has that sacred knowledge and is willing to share with my sons to guarantee that the world goes on but it was still not a real consideration for my original questions.

Having so much time plastered to a screen can be detrimental to our kids. Add up the time they are in front of a screen at home, and at school; plus don’t forget the time they watch TV in the car while you run errands, and you get an average of 8 hours a day for an average 8-10 year old. O-M-G!!  This new norm contributes to the rise in childhood obesity and all the fun health concerns that comes along with that. It has been shown to negatively affect sleep patterns needed for healthy growth. More screen time has been linked with increasing bully behavior and decreasing attention span.  It is shown to drop academic performance. And maybe the factor that could reverse all the others… it takes away from a child’s active playtime.

To me, it’s a little like seeing a person smoking. I always think to myself  “what else do you need to be shown to realize that this is a bad habit?” But people still do it.  What else do we need to learn about the impact of letting the screen raise our children before we make some changes?

Here is my plan:

  1. Limiting Screens in the bedroom: It is difficult to limit screen time in the child’s bedroom because that is where they go to do homework and now much of the homework is online. But we have resolved to not allow our kids to have televisions in their rooms.
  2. Television will be off during meal time. This one is harder for me because I grew up as having meals with my family around the TV. Good or bad, that was my family. But to allow the kids more time away from the screen we have resolved that the screen is off until the meal is done for everyone and the kitchen is cleaned up.  This includes for me eliminating texting, Facebooking or checking my phone during meals.
  3. We enforce consequences. My first rule when I gave my son his tablet (they both have tablets now) was that if ever I felt that he was checked out of the real world because of his tablet then he would lose the tablet for a time. (Yes, for the next few days my kids will be tablet free because they were not mentally and emotionally engaged at the competition this weekend.) Also if chores don’t get done tablet time is lost.
  4. Use time as a reward. Some parents have a credit system that involves chips or charts to allow kids to earn screen time, that’s way too much for me to deal with. I find it much easier to simply use an “If-Then” statement. “If you finish your homework then you may watch TV until 6:00. Or, “if you help with the lawn today then you can play Wii later.” Easy and no chart needed.
  5. I drive the TV. We DVR almost everything because we have a very abnormal schedule. That way we get to watch shows on our time. Also, I will watch shows with the kids and I am a very vocal critic. (Side note: kids TV shows embrace stupidity as humorous or normal and that just rubs me the wrong way.) If a show is inappropriate or in some other way unacceptable (like depicting stupid behavior as a way to get laughs) then I am the first to criticize it. My son asked me yesterday if Power Rangers was cool or lame.* He sought out my opinion because it is important to kids that they get our approval; this is an easy way to guide better decision-making.
  6. Be considerate. Let kids feel that they have a little say in their show choices and ability to control behavior. My wife is very good about telling kids “10 more minutes” or after this show it goes off.” That allows them fair notice and self-control.

Unfortunately more screen time will be a standard for the next generations and it is up to us to make sure that is doesn’t negatively affect the happy, healthy development of our own children.  Now get your face away from this screen and go play with your kids.

* Power Rangers is cool because they always get the bad guys, but lame because it looks like superheroes that bought their suits from a retro-disco resale shop. Plus their martial arts is really poorly choreographed, but still better than Uncle Grandpa. 

See also This article from the Scripps Health Website


The quick list: Why sports for your kids

OK. Lets do this. I know that people nowadays are less likely to read whole articles than they are to scan bullet points. I am afraid that all my preaching has gone un-read by the busy folks that might come across Gymfinity’s blog posts. So, here is the quick version so you can get back to playing Flappy Bird.

Why is it important to enroll your child in sports?

  • Physically:
    • They will maintain a healthy weight, have lower cholesterol, and it reduces blood pressure.
    • Exercise helps children prevent osteoporosis in later life by building bone density
    • Activity as a child increases the likelihood that a person will be active as an adult
  • Life Skills
    • By being in sports children develop self-discipline,
    • An athlete displays skill at goal-setting and develops characteristics in leadership
    • Children in sports learn time management to effectively balance home, school and social life
  • Socially:
    • Children will learn teamwork and how to have functional positive group dynamics, they learn to rely on peers and teammates for support
    • Sports help kids develop friendships
    •  Kids in sports feel more accepted among their peers because often other players judge each other based on their skills and effort, rather than by appearance or social status
    • Sports delivers self-confidence
    • Girls who play sports typically have a healthier body image than girls who don’t play sports
    • Learning to win and lose are valuable lessons
  • Cognitively:
    • Being in sports reduces the risk of depression
    • Kids in sports are more likely to get better grades and set goals for secondary education

Are there more reasons? Of course there are. Have your kids benefitted from being in sports? I would love to hear how your children developed in sports, please feel free to comment below.  Then you can return to playing Flappy Bird.



The case for keeping playgrounds fun

My family was fortunate enough this last summer to spend some time in Europe. I walked with my wife, my kids and brother’s family through a park in Kiev Ukraine. We stopped to play on an old fashioned teeter-totter and my brother commented that you don’t see these around anymore. I explained that the fear of lawsuits have made schools and parks remove the play stations of our youth, and how sad it was that our kids would have to travel abroad to experience a see-saw. But this post is not about the tragic elimination of fun because of the fear of litigation. It’s about another effect of removing playground fun.monkey-bars-15965022

The school my sons go to have a large monkey bar dome outside, and I hear parents talking about how they won’t let their children play on them because of the fear that their child may be hurt. I am sad for those kids because I remember sitting and watching my son, probably 5 at the time, playing on the dome after school one day. He climbed up a bit and then back down. He ran around with his friends then climbed a little more. This repeated until he called to me at the top of the dome “Dad, look at me.” “Wow” I shouted, “nice job, can you see our house from there? Is Mom home yet?” He surveyed the area then realized that I was being silly.  But the look of accomplishment on his face is something I will never forget. He tested his own comfort at that height. He tested his strength at climbing and balancing. He tested himself; and he passed his own test.

There is a developmental benefit to allowing children to explore spaces, heights, and other surfaces on a playground. Yes there is risk, but without risk the child doesn’t develop a sense of getting comfortable with testing their own limits and don’t have to learn to critically think about what and how to achieve. Children naturally develop a comprehension of their own potential by playing “risky” activities. Dr. Ellen Sandseter, a psychology professor at Norway’s Queen Maud University identifies 6 areas of play that are important in the development of a child: exploring heights, speed, tools, elements (fire and water), rough play, and being separated from an adult. Ok, re-read the list and take a deep breath because my first instinct was that I don’t want my kid doing any of that. But I have to admit that growing up, I climbed trees, and onto rooftops, I tackled roller coasters and loved long fast slides. I learned to use tools with my brothers and built some pretty cool things with them. I learned to swim early on and loved camping and sitting poking sticks into a campfire. And roller coasters weren’t the only thing I tackled, I occasionally tackled my brothers (or honestly they tackled me). Those are natural and beneficial activities that kids need to experience. Can you honestly say that, as a child, you didn’t experience these things? And you lived!

Unfortunately nowadays most playgrounds are being designed for younger children. Older kids (8-12 years) are bored immediately and react in one of two ways: they either leave and miss out on physical play and exploration because it’s too “babyish”. Or they change the setting to increase the thrill and make it age appropriate. My 9 year old loves to jump from the tower at the local park because the slide down is too slow.  I am sure that my 5 year old, Emmett, will jump from the tower this summer because Owen does, and in my book that’s OK. I certainly do not want him to be injured but I do want him to explore his boundaries and test his limits.

We are so concerned that our children will be damaged physically or emotionally by skinning the proverbial knee that we don’t allow them to try anything that could be “fun.” We need to change our perspective and see activities as a child sees them: is this fun? Of course it would be.  What I find most interesting about the concept of keeping kids safe is that children who are injured after falling are less likely to be traumatized by heights as an adult than those who never climbed as a child. A fear of the unknown can be debilitating more than a fear of consequences known. That means that playgrounds can be too safe and we need to let children be children. We need to allow them to develop naturally, the way we all did. We need to be able to comfort a child while asking “are you going to do that again?” and know that we were present when the child learned that maybe that jump was too much for them to repeat. But if they didn’t have the opportunity to learn that lesson they would likely be more afraid their whole life. That is not something I am willing to accept for my children.


Lemme tell ya bout Kurt and Mel

As I see it there are 3 areas of influence on a child that forms them into the person that they will be: The family, The school and The friends.  The family is responsible for teaching the child the love, honor, respect, to be responsible,  to share and follow values. The school teaches them skills to learn how to learn, they give loads of information that will assist in decision making and the appreciation of their world. The friends teach a child that they are OK, they are welcomed, appreciated and loved. The friends also show a kid how to have fun. The best part is that no one of these “teams”  has lessons that don’t overlap. The one-two-three punch style lesson providers work together to form the young child into a functioning and productive, happy member of society. Sometimes the  lessons work together like a symphony and sometimes its much more dissonant.

As I see it, the coach is a factor that falls in the spaces between all three of these form building forces.  The coach’s lessons in conjunction with all three branches and include respect, responsibility, fairness, following rules, creativity, expression, drive and self-management. The right coach can assist the other forces into a guaranteed success for the child.

Let me give an example: Back story. I got into gymnastics because my brother was responsible for me after school. He did gymnastics because he was awesome at every other sport but never did gymnastics. It was a challenge for him and he, of course, became great at it.  However, when I would hang out at the gym at the high school with my brother I got to know the guys on that team (sadly they would all be gone by the time I got to high school). Bob was the funny guy, he played piano and could play harmonica while in a handstand. Tom was a pommel horse wizard and did things so effortlessly that I learned a quick respect as soon as I tried them and found how hard pommel horse really was. Al was really really strong and specialized on parallel bars, another really tough event. Then there was Coach Mel Leinwander; a very quiet man, who, one time as I heard it, out bench-pressed a football lunk-head in the weight room without saying a word just to stop the bully from bad mouthing male gymnasts.  His urban legend was heroic.

None of these guys knew that I idolized them. I was a dorky and quiet kid that always sat off to the side reading a book or staring into space (both of which I still do frequently). I was so intimidated by the skill of these young men that I would rarely ever do anything in front of them for fear of looking stupid. But when they were gone or otherwise distracted I did everything they did and tried to act just like them. I wanted to be them so I studied how they did things; learning skills and breakdowns of skills helped me be the coach I am today, but also I watched what kind of people these young men were.

When kids come into our sport we have known that they tend to stay in school and apply themselves to study with the same dedication they  apply to gymnastics. Gymnastics, like all sports, takes a large amount of personal time; time that if left unassigned without a constructive activity can be filled with less desirable activities. Sports can be a great place where kids learn positive social atmosphere: that is being surrounded with like-minded and positive influences and associations.  This social structure, fortified by the strong and positive families of each teammate come into play with that development I mentioned previously.

I mentioned 3 sides to the development of a child: Family, Friends and School. We know that teams provide positive association with teammates, their families reinforce positive family structure and even give kids a “second” mom and dad to act accordingly when a child’s mother and father may not be present. Lastly the involvement in sports like gymnastics give kids the tools to be better students and thus the 3rd side of the triangle is strengthened; all due to sports.

Coach Leinwander circa 1977, Milwaukee Journal

Coach Leinwander circa 1977, Milwaukee Journal

Coaches like Mel Leinwander reinforce all sides of that development: by introducing children to sports and values they work hand in hand with the parents, the school and even the friends on developing an unformed and sometimes lost child into a student-athlete and eventually into a positive and functioning member of society.  So who is Kurt? Kurt was on the team too, he was  pretty quiet and modest and really different. I learned that Kurt used to be a “burn-out”; that’s what kids who smoked and partied were called. He was a pretty rough kid who, for some reason decided to give gymnastics a try.  Kurt was somewhere between being Al’s parallel bar protégé and being in Al’s parallel bar shadow. So what happened to Kurt, the burn-out that gave gymnastics a try?  He became, if I remember right, State Champion on parallel bars in high school and that kid that was headed for a rough life is now an architect in Milwaukee and, dare I say, doing well.  Factor of change, Coach Mel Leinwander. The coach introduced self respect. Leinwander challenged Kurt to work to be more worthy of his own respect. Kurt, cleaned up and straightened out.

Coaches, like Mel Leinwander, introduce young people to new worlds; worlds that challenge them and entice them to surpass their own perceived potential. Everytime someone askes me what I think sports can do for children I think of Kurt and I explain to them the legend in my mind that is Coach Leinwander. To this day I am still trying to be like those role models of my yesterday.  Those guys who were best friends, unique characters, strong athletes,  great students, good people and did gymnastics too. But if I could be like any one of them, I strive to be coach Mel.  He never coached me as a gymnast, he retired the year before I came to high school, but he unknowingly coached me in life, and I don’t even think he knew me as anything other than “Ork’s little brother”. It amazes me how people can have such a huge impact on us and may never even know it.


Is this really worth it for our kids?

It’s after 5:00 and you had to stay a few minutes later at work. Now the stress piles on, you have to get home, get her to gymnastics and him to the swimming practice and you have 15 minutes to do it. You don’t want to be that parent, the one who comes in late looking all frazzeled. You needed to stay later because that job is what puts food on the table. Sports are a luxury, why are you stressing out? You ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Let me fill in the answer for you, you seem stressed: “yes, it’s worth it.”

We have had parents tell us “its really just something to get him off the couch” or one of my favorites “I know, she’s not going to the Olympics.”. The Olympics were never the plan, (if they were, call me and we’ll talk). The couch should never be an option (if it is, call me, we’ll talk). So if we are not here just to offer some activity, or as a ticket to the Wheaties box, then what is the value of a program like Gymfinity or sports activities in general?

First off, a child’s health should be an overwhelming motivator for parents. The physical foundation that a child learns in sports is tantamount to physical success in refined movement through life. Not just the ability to skip, bounce and run, but to stand, balance, throw, and catch;  skills that kids learn that they keep their whole life. Let’s talk broader attributes that last life-long: stamina, cardio health, hand-eye/foot coordination, general kinesthetic awareness and most importantly the feeling of being healthy and loving it. No one likes to feel themselves slip out of shape. Remember the first time it dawned on you that you couldn’t still do some of the things you used to be able to do? If we get kids to love feeling healthy, they may never have that sad realization; or it may be minimal at best. In today’s society where over-fat kids are becoming the norm, don’t you want your child to be a step above? Me too. For Physical development, kids in sports makes sense.

But physical health isn’t all. There is a ton of research that shows us that kids in sports are smarter. A research team in Michigan’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports tells us that kids in sports perform better in school than peers who don’t do sports. Parents often worry that sports will take time away from books, but the models we have seen show us that kids learn to manage their time and focus better when sports are the release from study. Study breaks are a must, we all learned that in college: when the time away from the books is constructive and healthy the reintroduction to the studies will be more focused and efficient. That’s another benefit of moving and what better way to move than at gymnastics, in a pool or on a playing field?

Last summer we attended a seminar on brain development in children, my staff and I are always hungry to learn. A whole section was done on gymnastics and swimming and the positive benefits on brain development in young children who participate in those activities. I’m sure you have seen and read some of the information we have posted around relating to brain development and your choice of Gymfinity.

So we know that for cognitive development, sports is a key to healthy children.

When kids play sports they learn to be gracious winners and learn from losing. They learn that they are part of a team, even in gymnastics where they compete alone, they are still part of a bigger team. And their team mates become their friends. What better place to find friends than at the gym doing what they love and sharing the experience with their friends? I have seen kids come through classes with friends, make it to team with friends, graduate with friends and stay life-long friends after gymnastics is over. I can’t think of a better pool, pardon the pun, than making friends with other kids in sports.

I mentioned that kids learn to win and lose well. I have said many times that a problem with kids now-a-days is that they have too much undeserved self-esteem. They are made to feel that they can do no wrong and their little egos are inflated because adults are so worried about kids “feeling bad” about themselves. In sports winning and losing teach that you are as strong as your effort. You shouldn’t get a trophy for breathing and showing up, you need to play, work hard, develop your skill and give it all you got to win. And if winning isn’t in the cards this time, then losing can motivate you to work harder and try again. The feeling of self-worth and value a child gets from this exercise (again with the pun) is invaluable. Perseverance, goal setting, determination, dedication and drive are by-products of sports participation. Those affective attributes are what your child gets from sports.

Children don’t need to be shown how to have fun, it’s natural. But as they grow their ability to have fun doing the simplest things gets grown right out of them. Little kids who used to love standing in the living room and spinning around now need a place or activity to do that helps they find that joy again. Being in a sport helps them find that smile that came with just innocently being alive. It lets them feel the exhilaration of moving and does it in conjunction with skill development. What a great and constructive trade for losing that happy silliness.

Also, did you know that most crime done by children occurs not at night, as you would assume, but between the hours of 3 and 6pm? It’s true. That after school time often finds kids with nothing to do and nowhere to be and so they get into doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing and places they shouldn’t be going. If they only had a positive activity to do after school… hey, how about taking a class? How about joining a team? Being involved in sports activities has been shown to reduce crime in children and even shown drastic reduction in drug use for kids.  I really like what sports has to offer when it comes to keeping kids healthy, happy and safe.

With the right program a child can thrive in sports and not even have to go to the Olympics (that was a joke). Once you get them off the couch and on to a team or program you can count on them being happier, healthier and growing up the way you always wanted them to. If you are sure that the coach is in it for the right reasons: namely to the benefit of children, then you are doing well by your child. If the coach is out to beat other teams at whatever cost, if they berate the children for sub-perfect performance, then it’s not the sport that is bad, it’s the coach. Find a program, like Gymfinity, that fits your child. A program that makes them smile.

So, stressed out parent with only minutes to get to the gym, is it worth it? Of course it is. You may only see some of the benefits over time but the alternative would show you it’s benefits immediately. You may be stressed but that is what parenting is all about sometimes, and if you need a release, try being the most active and vocal cheerleader that your kid has ever seen. Not only will you work out your own tension but what a great way to embarrass your pre-teen and teenage kids, but that’s a whole other benefit to discuss later.


Lets get ready for the Olympics

I am very excited about the upcoming Olympic games. Granted there will be no gymnastics, trampoline or swimming but I still feel that I have caught Olympic fever. Watching athletes come together in peace to battle through sport is exhilarating. Knowing that when the games are over the athletes will part as friends who shared a common dream, to represent their country in performing at their personal best. How glorious to be chosen to represent your nation in this endeavor; and how truly patriotic we feel as we watch American’s take their place in the games playing in our name. Every country has people just like us, they watch, they cheer and they are enthusiastically loyal to their own land. Despite borders, despite politics, despite problems, for 2 weeks we are out there and competing with the world on a level playing field. I am always in awe.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said ” Sports provides a role model for peace and harmony and friendship.” I believe that if we as coaches and teachers of sport are not treating every practice session and every game/meet/tournament as if we hold the potential for shaping tomorrow in our hands then we are doing a disservice to our athletes, their families and the world in general, It may sound like I’m on a high horse, but I believe this to be true. Through sports we can develop children to be the heroes of tomorrow, not just in games but in life.

In this video, you will see how athletes, mere players of games, can transform, and are transforming, the world.

As the games start tomorrow, I wish the athletes from every country the best of luck and thank them for providing us our pride, our hopes and our dreams.


Backing it up

Recently I stated that there are many studies that indicate that physical activity enhances academic learning and I was questioned by a few people. I really appreciate comments from people because it means that, at the least, they are reading Gymfinity’s blog posts. But I digress….  Physical education may be disappearing from some schools, but a study finds that kids who engage in sports or physical activity may do better academically.

In this study released last year in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. There were research articles reviewed and critiqued for accuracy. To be honest, some studies were deemed un-credible in their link between activity and academic performance. One was so precise as to affirm that there is a correlation between physical activity and language and reading skill. There were 2 studies, deemed high quality, both showing a strong correlation between exercise and better school performance. If there was any downfall to the studies, the concern was that it was difficult to measure the amount and type of activity and thus might have only a partial picture of the true results. Thus it is difficult to conclusively say exactly how much exercise a person needs to see an actual increase in learning performance. The concern, to reiterate, is over measure trigger points not in actual effect. The effect is a given.

Most studies conclude that an increase in oxygen in the blood and thus oxygen being delivered to the brain can up the level of endorphins and so also have the benefit of providing a reduction in stress and enhancing mood. Nice, huh?  Need more?

Exercise improves Kids Academics: Live Science:  In math, American fourth graders came in at 11th place of the 36 countries….Regarding student fitness, the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the percentage of overweight or obese 6- to 11-year-olds has tripled since 1980, with more than 125 million children at unhealthy levels.

Research Finds Vigorous Exercise Equals Better Academics- Science Daily:  Middle school students who perform more vigorous physical activity than their more sedentary counterparts tend to do better in school….

Exercise Increase Students Cognitive Function- Education Week:   Regular exercise helped previously sedentary, overweight children to perform better on goal-oriented tasks and improved their mathematics ability,

Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement: Journal of Exercise and Physiology: if there is evidence that physical education has a direct positive effect on important educational domains such as reading and mathematics, it could be argued that physical education is not extracurricular. Rather, it is a vital component in students’ academic success.

Physically Active Play and Cognition- Jacob Sattelmair and John J. Ratey   :  Evidence that exercise may also improve cognitive development and academic performance provides yet another reason to promote physical activity for students.

There ya go.



Jason Orkowski

Jason Orkowski

A Little about me

Born and raised in Milwaukee Wisconsin, I started gymnastics inthe late 70's and started coaching in 1980 to help offset the expenses of my own participation. I graduated from UW LaCrosse with a BS in Physical Education, then went back and got another BS in Health Education. That was 1989.

Having coached around the country at camps, clubs and clinics I opened my own gym in 1999...Gymfinity. 

In 2010 I was brought on as a consultant to 3rd Level Consulting working with business leaders in the children's acivity center industry, specializing in human resources and marketing as well as setting up business systems. 

I married a wonderful friend and partner in 2001 and Stephanie and I have 2 children; Owen (2004) and Emmett (2008). 

April 2014
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Gymfinity on Twitter

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